Is this the end of truck driving jobs in mining?

Haul Trucks

With Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill set to become the world’s largest autonomous mine, is this the end of haul truck driving jobs in mining?

Within a matter of weeks, 100% of the haul trucks at the Roy Hill iron ore mine in WA’s Pilbara will be driverless.

That’s 96 trucks, operating in and around a mine that produces 60 million tonnes of ore a year (and is on track this year to produce 100 million tonnes), without a driver.

The company says that makes Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill the world’s largest autonomous mine.

Is this the end of haul truck driving jobs in the mining industry?

What has Roy Hill achieved with automation?

Before we answer that question, let’s pause to better understand precisely what Roy Hill has achieved.

The company has been working with suppliers Epiroc and ASI to develop an interoperable and scalable autonomous haul truck solution. The result is a system that can be used on any truck, regardless of the original equipment manufacturer.

Haul trucks are converted by being fitted with vehicle automation kits that include special traffic management and onboard automation systems, to allow the trucks to navigate the mine’s virtual map, and communicate with ancillary vehicles and the control room.

Roy Hill said the already converted part of the fleet is meeting the desired safety and productivity metrics and achieving higher productivity rates than the conventional haul truck fleet, which were key objectives of the program.

The company said the, “autonomous haul trucks are running 24/7 in a dedicated autonomous operating zone, interacting safely with two excavators and numerous ancillary vehicles at intersections, waste dumps and load areas”.

What does this mean for haul truck driving jobs?

Roy Hill acknowledged that the switch to autonomous haul trucks has impacted jobs at its Pilbara operations. But while truck driving jobs are disappearing, new opportunities are opening up.

The company said it remained, “committed to supporting its people impacted by the project, with reskilling and redeployment programs in place to help operators transition to new roles”.

Chief Executive Officer Gerhard Veldsman said: “Our people are critical to our success and for Roy Hill, the Smart Mine pathway is all about creating a workplace that sets our people up for success, now and in the future.
“As we grow and expand our operations over the next few years, we are going to need lots of people and different skill sets to run our operations.
“This is an example of Roy Hill using innovative solutions to meet the challenges of an extremely tight labour market, while supporting our people with retraining and helping them transition into other critical roles of the business.”

“Today you may be a truckie, tomorrow you might be an apprentice or ship loader operator.”

Given the tight labour market, the improved safety and productivity results Roy Hill says it is already getting from its existing fleet of autonomous haul trucks, and the speed of the company’s investment in automating its entire fleet, it’s safe to assume other mine operators will be watching closely and taking note. Those who can afford the investment are likely to follow suit. Hopefully, most will also follow Roy Hill’s lead on retraining and redeployment.

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Dan Hatch
Mining People International